Emperor

Emperor gives Matthew Fox of TV’s Lost fame a lead movie role alongside heavyweight actor Tommy Lee Jones. Happily, Fox is up to the task in a movie that examines Japanese culture and American attitudes toward postwar Japan.

Emperor is a dramatization of real life events following the Japanese surrender. The title character is Hirohito and the story revolves around whether the victorious US should hang him for war crimes.

General Douglas MacArthur (played by Jones) orders General Bonner Fellers (played by Fox) to investigate and determine whether the emperor sanctioned the attack at Pearl Harbor or was not involved in decisions made by the country’s political leaders.

Adding an element of interest to the story is Fellers’ old flame, a Japanese woman named Aya (played by Eriko Hatsune) who was an exchange student as his college. When he was stationed in the Philippines in the months before the war, Fellers visited the woman in Japan and fell more deeply in love with her and the country. She is introduced via flashbacks. Fellers has hopes of finding her alive, despite the devastation brought on by US bombing attacks.

Emperor demonstrates a strong respect for Japanese people and shows the devotion the nation’s citizens had for the emperor in 1945. Some of the Japanese characters also acknowledge that they committed barbaric acts during the war. The film presents occupying American military personnel, led by MacArthur, as people intent on helping Japan climb out of the rubble. But first, there are wrongs to be righted.

Upon setting up in Tokyo, the Americans quickly make simultaneous surprise raids on the homes of 29 suspected war criminals. 26 are detained; the others commit suicide. Then after some intense detective work comes Fellers’ report of Hirohito, which leads to a surprising action by MacArthur.

Director Peter Webber does an efficient job of retelling a little-remembered chapter from 20th century history. The characters and the story are interesting and compelling. Emperor is an entertaining, well-made, occasionally emotional, movie for grownups.

Looper

“Looper” is a mildly entertaining time travel sci-fi film with three likable stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.

Time travel is often used as a gimmicky crutch, as in the TV series “Lost.” To build a whole movie around time travel is risky. When a character interacts with his older self, things can get confusing. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, Joe, at different ages.

The movie is set in a not-especially-futuristic-looking 2044. Most of their vehicles appear about the same as those we drive today—except for that one cool jet-powered scooter. In 2044, time travel has not yet been developed. But 30 years beyond, time travel has been perfected. But it’s only used by the bad guys.

Because, we are told, it’s hard to dispose of human bodies in 2074, mob hits are accomplished by sending the poor suckers back to 2044 where they are quickly offed and tossed into a furnace. Among those sent back to be killed are older versions of some of those young assassins. They “loop” back, hence the title.

One looper who is sent back—the older Joe—escapes death at the hand of his younger self. He begins a mission to kill a 2044 vintage kid, before he grows up to become a gang leader called The Rainmaker. Still with me? This is where Emily Blunt comes in. She is a single mom, living in a rural farm house with her precocious child. Her kid may the one who would become the Rainmaker. The boy does have some mighty anger issues!

Jeff Daniels gives a standout performance as a crime boss with a wicked sense of humor.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strange makeup (presumably to make him even slightly resemble Bruce Willis) gives him odd-looking lips and eyes. Emily Blunt sounds like a native-born American, squelching her limey accent.

“Looper’s” plot is messy. The movie’s pace hits the brakes just past its midway point. And the sci-fi lacks those “oh, wow” effects/settings/technology that you expect in a movie like this one.

“Looper” is not a bad movie, just one that needs more truly compelling content. One might presume that writer/director Rian Johnson figured the time travel bit might be a strong enough frame to build the movie on. Not quite.